Asia Pacific

U.S., North Korea begin talks on return of remains of American troops killed in Korean War

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

U.S. and North Korean officials met at the border between the two Koreas on Sunday to discuss the return of remains of American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, according to a media report.

The subject of the talks, which were originally scheduled for last Thursday before a sudden pullout by the North side, was one of the agreements reached at U.S. President Donald Trump’s landmark meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore last month.

After a visit to Pyongyang earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the two sides had initially agreed to hold talks on U.S. remains last week, but no North Korea representatives showed up at the border. The North then proposed meeting higher-level U.S. military officials Sunday, according to officials from the U.S. and South.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, quoting an unidentified South Korean official, said the talks were proceeding.

Sunday’s talks began around 10 a.m. at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom. Maj. Gen. Michael Minihan, chief of staff for the United Nations Command, led the U.S. side and the North’s delegation included a two-star general, Yonhap reported.

The talks were first such meeting between the UNC and the North’s military in over nine years.

The meeting was to focus on details of the remains’ transfer, including how and when — though the North could also use the talks to demand something in exchange.

In their four-point joint statement at the Singapore talks, the U.S. and North Korea committed “to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

Dozens of wooden coffins to carry the American remains have reportedly been brought to the southern side of the border in recent weeks.

Trump has touted the agreement as a key win for his administration, though talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons have in recent weeks faced headwinds.

While the North agreed in Singapore to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” it accused Pompeo’s delegation during its recent visit to Pyongyang of making “gangster-like” demands in connection with relinquishing its arsenal.

Other issues that could come up at Sunday’s talks include a proposal to jointly declare an end to the Korean War, which technically is still ongoing since the conflict ended in an armistice and not a formal peace treaty.

“Like the more central issue of denuclearization,” the North “will not give away leverage over the remains without obtaining something of value in return,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a veteran arms control expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies and Alana Vogel, also of the think tank, wrote on its blog Friday. “It wants to see progress on a peace regime, meaning a treaty to put a formal end to the war and an end to what it characterizes as Washington’s ‘hostile policy.’ “

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